- Fully rugged notebook
- Compact form factor
- Can be configured with Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G/HSDPA
- Very expensive
- Heavy for such a small notebook
- Few on-board ports
- Additional expansion modules or docking units required to add connectivity options
- Keyboard is not conducive to fast typing
General Dynamics Itronix is a specialist maker of rugged computers. And we really do mean rugged. The company produces machines in several categories from 'commercial grade' with limited durability through 'semi-rugged', 'fully rugged' all the way up to 'ultra rugged'.
The GoBook MR-1 falls into the fully rugged category, which means it meets all MIL STD 810F specifications and is IP54 rated for water and dust ingress protection. The MIL and IP standards are recognised standards in the rugged computing world.
This is the smallest fully rugged computer we've seen to date. According to General Dynamics Itronix the MR-1 is a quarter the size of a standard notebook, quoting measurements of 15.2cm wide by 11cm deep by 4cm tall.
The case is not uniformly shaped, and our own measurements, taken at the widest points, make it 17cm wide by 14.5cm deep by 4cm tall. Even so, this is undeniably a small computer. The closest comparisons we can come up with are T-Mobile's Windows Mobile-based Ameo (13.3cm x 9.8cm x 1.6cm) and the OQO Model e2 (14.2cm x 8.4cm x 2.6cm), which runs Windows.
The rugged nature of the MR-1 means it's considerably heavier, at 0.91kg, than either the 376g Ameo or the 450g OQO.
And there's no doubting this machine's ruggedness. It has magnesium alloy sheeting on the lid panel and the remainder of the outer casing is made of a very tough plastic. Styled on the outside in grey and silver, with a black keyboard and black framing for two status light areas, it looks every bit the industrial-strength machine it's intended to be.
However two features draw our attention. First, there's no clasp to hold the lid and keyboard sections together when the notebook is closed. Although the hinge mechanism is sturdy, we can’t help feeling that it' still possible for foreign objects to push their way into the notebook and possibly cause damage to the screen or the keyboard.
Second, although the product web site describes the I/O ports as 'sealed', there were no protective port covers on our review sample. However, several of the photos on the site do show screw-on port covers in place.
Because this is such a small notebook, there's no room inside the case for the battery. Instead, the battery is an add-on 'slice' covering the entire bottom of the system. The system unit itself has no outer cover, and we have some concern about four wires that, although they looked secure on our review sample, could potentially become loose over time.
The underside of the battery has panel that, when pressed, indicates the charge level (¼, ½, ¾, 1). This would be much more useful placed on a side edge of the battery pack allowing it to be reached with the battery in situ.
The screen of the GoBook MR-1 measures 5.6in. from corner to corner, and has a resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels. Text is very small on-screen at this resolution, and anyone with less than perfect eyesight may find themselves drawn to the zoom button on the keyboard. Once zoomed in, you can use the touchpad to move around the screen.
The GoBook MR-1 can be configured with a touch-screen, although our review sample did not have one.
The keyboard is necessarily small and is a sealed, membrane-type unit. The keys themselves are quite small, and it's not possible to touch-type; the best solution we found was to hold the device in two hands and peck at keys with the thumbs. Cleary this is not suitable for all mobile computing situations, and competent two-finger typists may prefer to work with the GoBook MR-1 on a flat surface.
The nature of the keyboard means it doesn't deliver a tactile return on keypresses. However, a quiet click confirms that a key has been pressed.
Unusually, there's a row of keys beneath the space bar row, offering a range of services including the zoom button and screen brightness controls. This means that the touchpad is not in its usual location, but sits among a bank of buttons above the keyboard, to the right. The right and bottom edges of the touchpad provide vertical and horizontal scrolling. If you don't like the touchpad, you can use the adjacent, rather large, pointing stick.
With the GoBook MR-1 held in both hands, the touchpad and pointing stick fall under the right thumb. Meanwhile, the left and right mouse buttons, and the four-way navigation pad, fall conveniently within range of the left thumb.
We're not sure if it's lack of confidence that has inspired the inclusion of a dedicated Ctrl-Alt-Del button in this area. All three keys are also present individually, of course, and when used together perform the expected function of opening Windows Task Manager.
The GoBook MR-1 is a fully fledged notebook, powered by a 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400 with 2MB of L2 cache. Our review sample came with 512MB of RAM, expandable to 1GB, and the system had Windows XP Professional installed.
Bluetooth (2.0) and Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g) were both present in our review sample. Wired Ethernet is available too, but to use it you'll need the optional 'mini office dock', which adds a range of extra ports.
The optional mini office dock provides audio line-in/out, 10/100 Ethernet, serial, USB and VGA-out ports.
Our review sample was configured with a built-in (SiRFstar III) GPS receiver. A 3G module with HSDPA is also expected to be included in due course, although this was not available at the time of writing. In addition, the MR-1 can be configured with a fingerprint sensor for added device security.
For storage, our review unit had a 40GB shock-mounted, heated, 1.8in. hard drive, with an 80GB option also available. The larger hard drive requires a slice-style expansion module. You can also opt for a 32GB or 64GB solid-state drive.
Various expansion 'slices' that fit between the MR-1 system unit and the battery are available.
There's just a single USB port and a 2.5mm headset connector on the MR-1 itself. For more connectivity options, you'll need either the aforementioned 'mini office dock' or a slice-style expansion module that fits between the system unit and the battery. The standard unit has a second USB port, a serial port and a slot for a TPM v1.2 module, for device security. Another offers a PC Card slot, a serial port, a FireWire (IEEE 1394) connector and a TPM v1.2 module. Even if you opt for a slice, then, connectivity options are more limited than you'd get from most notebooks.
General Dynamics Itronix says you should get three hours of life from the standard 4,000mAh lithium-polymer battery, and 6 hours with an extended 8,000mAh unit. We tested the battery performance of the GoBook MR-1 using Battery Eater and got 2 hours 10 minutes of battery life. Battery Eater measures the minimum operation time of a notebook with all power-saving options disabled, under conditions close to the maximum workload, so our result is not out of line with the manufacturer's 3-hour claim.
None of the wireless modules were active during testing, though, so bear in mind that in the field, with these options enabled, the battery may deplete considerably faster.
The GoBook MR-1 is an impressive piece of kit. It's remarkable that a fully fledged notebook can be squeezed into such a small format, although we did find the ergonomics a little challenging at times. In the end, it'll probably be the price that puts you off: this is no substitute for a full-size notebook, and you may find you need one of those in addition. If it were A5 in size, the GoBook MR-1 might be more compelling, simply because it could potentially serve as an everyday notebook as well as a small, highly rugged, device.